11. 27 September 1995 (Tusculan Disputations and Hamlet; Latin; signatures)

Dear John,


   nice to hear from you. I seem to have become entangled in all sorts of projects, literary, musical and other - some even domestic - and am performing a colourable imitation of the limed bird in Shakespeare, with a great deal of ineffectual wing-beating and squawking.

   But I can always spare time for Shakespeare. So here are the data and details I promised, beginning with the lead article 'Hamlet's Soliloquy, "To be or not to be"', by Francesca Bugliani of Milan, in the latest issue of Hamlet Studies (17, 1-2, Summer and Winter 1995).

   She says, inter a great deal of alia, that 'the Tusculan Disputations was very well known in Shakespeare's day... The points of similarity between the soliloquy and Cicero's text are many... verbal similarities between [the former] and John Dolman's translation [1561: BL 232. k. 21] are striking... '.

   And so they are. As I mentioned, I have an added interest because in The Real Shakespeare I drew attention (for the first time, I believe) to the fact that Nashe in 1589, having pilloried Hamlet, proceeds to complain of plagiarism from the Tusculan Disputations; and that these contain the words 'id aut esse aut non esse' followed by a reference to the judges of the underworld (as in Hamlet Q1).

   I'm also the chap who claims that Shakespeare lacked Latin; and if I can't believe my own arguments, whose can I?. So no doubt I should have looked for an English translation. But I didn't.  All the same, anyone who scrutinises Dolman 1561 will soon see that, just as la Bugliani says, 'with all due reservations, we may even still have Shakespeare's actual copy of Dolman's translation.... The [BL] copy ...is heavily annotated in various hands, one of which resembles supposed [unspecified] specimens of Shakespeare's handwriting...Furthermore it has a signature on the title page which might possibly read 'W Shak'.

   Of course literary academics aren't really interested in such writings, which are in every sense marginal - and more likely to cause derision than recognition. No doubt much mirth and merriment can be made of the supposed signature 'Shak': did the spear drop from his nerveless hand (cf Fal-staff)? On the other hand, so to speak, it's hard to believe that a forger would have written thus, even if Dolman were a known source-book. And the marginalia, which may be datable, do indeed resemble Shakespeare's hand, in the signatures as in Sir Thomas More - though. if they were his, they'd be much earlier than either.

   I think there are one or two rather encouraging signs. Firstly, I'm sure la Bugliani is wrong in imagining 'various hands'. It's plain that the annotator wrote both secretary and italic, sometimes visibly varying from one to the other during the same phrase. Shakespeare wrote both, with supreme indifference to alphabets and personalised signatures (which led dear dotty Jane Cox to announce that the nation's treasures must be forgeries and Shakespeare himself a chimera - 'could the man write his own name?') .

   Further, the Dolman letter-forms also appear in the six signatures, in Hand D of Sir Thomas More (now also universally accepted as genuine) and in Edmund Ironside. This last attribution is also gaining ground; thus Yale U.P. have just accepted my Shakespeare's [sic]Edward  III, after careful professional refereeing of an edition which contains a detailed demonstration of that play's verbal and stylistic affiliations with Ironside. The latter's MS is Egerton 1994; it's a dramatic text prima facie in an authorial (surely not a copyist's) secretary hand with interspersed italic for stage directions etc. I date it 1588, i.e. much earlier than the signatures and Hand D, but about the same date as Dolman.

   Annoyingly, much of the Dolman annotation has been cropped by a 19th century bookbinder. But there's plenty left; and some of the phrases sound Shakespearean per se: thus 'madnesse [a] sicknes [of] minde', finds famous echoes in Macbeth etc.

   I'll spare you a detailed conspectus of resemblances. But I enclose xeroxes of a few sample pages from Dolman. I've written a note on these topics to the only accredited Shakespearean and palaeographer I've ever been on first name terms with (apart from Charles Hamilton, who seems to have left the scene) namely David Thomas of the PRO. I know he's working on some investigations of his own, and hasn't always much time to spare, but I thought it was worthwhile to enquire. I'll let you know of any developments. Meanwhile you may think it worthwhile to take a look yourself at the BL volume.

   While I'm about it I'm also enclosing copies of my own two latest pieces.

   Best wishes and regards, as ever,
   Yours Eric